Indian cinema produced many geniuses and visionaries who thought ahead of their times and exuded many path breaking ideas. These visionaries not only believed in their ideas, but also executed them with astounding precision and passion.
Some filmmakers tread the well beaten path, but some create a path seldom chosen by people. Filmmakers who fall in the second category and make these pioneering efforts are generally counted in the echelons of visionaries.
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One such visionary in Indian cinema, Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, a doyen of South Indian cinema who enriched the craft of cinema with original ideas and great embellishment, turns 88 on September 21st, 2019.
The man who honed his inherent skills in cinema under the legendary K.V. Reddy, became a legend himself in his lifetime with the range of genres in which he made movies. This man from Guduru, Andhra Pradesh is often credited to have produced a classic combo of hero-director. Singeetam Srinivasa Rao and Kamal Haasan created magic on screen with their movies which are still considered classics. K. Viswanath, Bapu and Singeetam are collectively known as the holy trinity of meaningful cinema in Tollywood. Singeetam went a step ahead by combining both Telugu culture and modern craft of cinema to become a trendsetter in many genres of film making.
We look at the six movie gems by Singeetam, which he pioneered genre wise. These are a must watch for cinema lovers in general and Singeetam fans in particular.
- Raja Paarvai/Amavasya Chandrudu (Tamil and Telugu) (1981)
This movie is special in many ways. Singeetam made Kamal Haasan, the heartthrob of the 1980s, play a blind man for the first time. The movie was Kamal’s 100th movie and he chose Singeetam to direct the movie as he knew he would be secure as an actor with Singeetam helming the affairs.
The movie also starred one of Indian cinema’s legends, L.V. Prasad, as the grandfather of Madhavi, who played the lead with Kamal. The movie is noted for its soulful music by Ilaiyaraja. It is also praised for the way Singeetam told the story of a blind violinist who wins over his lady love, after a lot of obstacles.
The combination of Kamal and Singeetam took off after this hit and then they went on to give classics to Indian cinema.
- Mayuri (1984) (Telugu)
Mayuri, directed by Singeetam, is the inspiring story of Sudha Chandran, who loses her leg in a road accident but stands the test of fate. She goes on to rejuvenate her dance career with the famous Jaipur foot. Here too, the great man took a risk by casting a physically crippled girl as the leading lady. The movie showcased both the acting and dancing skills of Sudha Chandran and was a big hit. Singeetam was invited to make the movie in Hindi as Nache Mayuri. S. Janaki, who sang for the movie, was awarded the prestigious Sur Singar Samsad Award, for the best classical song of the year. Sudha Chandran and the movie went on to win National Awards.
Mayuri had soulful music by singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, who employed his composing skills to effect in the movie. S.P. Balasubrahmanyam himself rates Mayuri as his best work as a music director.
- Pushpaka Vimanam/Pushpak (1987)
The magnum opus of Singeetam, Pushpaka Vimana, undoubtedly, is his silent movie in a talkie era. The movie was a masterclass about how to make a movie without dialogues, using just the background music to support the scene. The duo of Singeetam and Kamal Haasan created magic unsurpassed till date. The skills used in the movie was about how mere facial and hand gestures make a film impactful. The legendary movie maker V. Shantharam praised Singeetam sky high after he watched the movie.
The movie went on to win the National Film Award for Best Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment in 1988.
- Apoorva Sagodharargal/Apoorva Sahodarulu (1989) (Tamil and Telugu)
This movie is another gem from the repertoire of Singeetam and Kamal Haasan. The first Indian movie to showcase a dwarf and create a story around his life. Singeetam scored a sixer in depicting a tall Kamal as a dwarf by using clever tactics and camera angles, which, unlike the current times, did not include computer graphics or special effects. With minimum set properties and maximum manpower, Singeetam created a universe of a dwarf who too has his feelings and has a life to live. Apoorva Sagodharargal is still considered as a watershed movie in producing a sensitive portrayal of a specially challenged person, who has a heart of gold.
- Michael Madana Kama Rajan/Michael Mathana Kama Raju (Tamil/Telugu) (1990)
This is a classic comedy in which Singeetam made Kamal challenge his versatility, by devising four different characters with varying background, body language, dialogue delivery and behavior. This movie, in which Kamal gave us his classic histrionics as Michael, Madan, Kameswaran and Raju, is considered by film historians in the South as the greatest comedy involving a single actor in multiple roles.
This experiment gave Kamal additional inspiration to produce and act in a movie like Dasavatharam as ten different characters.
- Aditya 369 (Telugu) (1991)
A science fantasy is not every director’s cup of tea. Singeetam is a man who challenges himself and his crew with untried ideas and great screenplays to bring out novel ideas on to celluloid reality. Aditya 369 was one of its kind, a sci fi drama, in which the lead pair, Balakrishna and Mohini, travel in a time machine to visit the golden age of Telugu land, the Vijayanagara period and interact with the great Emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya.
The movie, with its great music by Ilaiyaraja and Singeetam’s fantastic screenplay, still is a benchmark to make a sci fi movie including time travel in India.
Recently, Balakrishna met Singeetam at the latter’s residence in Chennai to discuss a new script which will reunite them both. Similarly ,Singeetam is a child at heart and also participated in discussions about Nag Ashwin’s Mahanati. He even visited the sets of the Savitri biopic to share his working experience with the legendary K.V. Reddy in the classic Maya Bazaar when some sequences were recreated for the movie.
Singeetam is a live wire at a sprightly 88. We wish him a vedic century and many more active years of filmmaking.
As Krish Jagarlamudi once remarked, Singeetam is the only filmmaker in India who exhausted all genres of film craft. A treasure for our cinema, indeed a walking university.
Happy 88th birthday, Singeetam garu!